A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

Published: 1991

Genre: literary fiction

Length: 371 pages

Setting: a farm in Iowa, 1979

Font: Bembo

Interest: It’s a Pulitzer Prize winner

Summary: The Cook family has farmed the same land for four generations. The current patriarch has decided to retire, turn the farm into a corporation, and sign it over to his daughters. The change in ownership also brings about huge changes in the family dynamics and leads ultimately to a loss of the family land. Ginny, the oldest daughter, has always been the good daughter, but now she has an affair and ultimately walks out on her marriage. Rose, the middle child, decides now is the time to get back at her father for sexually molesting her and Ginny as children. The father becomes erratic and paranoid in his behavior and Carolyn, the youngest, takes his side in the arguments. By the end, the family’s stability and relationships are completely ruined.

Final thoughts: Smiley draws you right into the world of the Cook family. What looked like a perfect farm family – lots of land, successful harvests, multiple generations working together – turns out to be anything but. The father ruled the roost, and as long as he was terrorizing everyone into doing what he wanted, the family just slid along as it always had. As soon as he stepped down, all the problems surfaced, and what a lot of problems there were – sexual abuse, suicide, infidelity. Apparently, the book was made into a movie as well.

Title comes from: The size of the Cook farm.

Awards won: National Book Critics Circle Award in 1991, Pulitzer Prize in 1992

Reading challenges fulfilled: 33/100 in my Finally to 100 Challenge, 8/12 in my Award Winning Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Q&A by Vikas Swarup

Published: 2005, reprinted as Slumdog Millionaire in 2008 in the U.S.

Genre: fiction

Length: 318 pages

Setting: India, present day

Interest: I was looking for an audio book for an 11-hour car trip. This one caught my eye because I recognized the title from the movie. The back copy made it sound interesting, and it was the perfect length for my trip.

Summary: Ram Mohammad Thomas is a poor Indian Waiter who has just won the new Indian game show “Who Wants to Win a Billion?” The producer doesn’t believe Ram could have won without cheating, so Ram is arrested. A lawyer gets him out of jail and then listens to the stories which explain how Ram could answer each question. For most of the questions, one period of Ram’s life provided the answer. We learn his life story in a non-linear fashion as he talks about growing up with a Catholic priest and then an orphanage, working with an Australian diplomat and a Bollywood film star, and then as a bartender. Eventually, we find out Ram really went on the game show to kill the host who abused a prostitute Ram loves.

Final thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I can see why it was made into a movie, because all of the flashbacks had such a cinematic aspect to them. The audio version was delightful to listen to since each character was voiced in its appropriate accent.

You basically get Ram’s life story, but in piece-meal form instead of from beginning to end. Ram’s life was so different from anything I’ve ever experienced because it was set in India. Half the fun of the story was trying to figure out where this particular episode fit among the stories. I was also shocked when I found out Ram had an ulterior motive for going on the quiz show. He didn’t actually know all the answers, since the host changed the second question when he learned Ram didn’t know the answer, but he was still lucky he could answer the rest form his life’s adventures.

Title comes from: The quiz show format for the original title. The fact that Ram came from the slums yet won the big prize provided the U.S. title.

Reading challenges fulfilled: none, since this was an audiobook (which is disappointing since I could have gotten a Q title out of it).

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image or subtitle to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Short Stories by Ken Hinckley

by JACEY

by JACEY

Title: The Ostracons of Europa

Published: July 2013 in Nature

Genre: science fiction

Length: 4 pages

Setting: on Europa, in the future

Interest: It was included in the 2014 Campbellian Anthology

Summary: Ricardo is in a submersible on Europa when he comes across an alien on the ocean floor. The alien indicates to Ricardo that he should turn off the lights on the submersible, and Ricardo experiences the bioluminescence of life on Europa.

Final thoughts: I was disappointed with this story – it just ended. We were just getting into the interaction of Ricardo and the alien when the story ended. Plus, there was some random mention of Ricardo’s wife being dead, which didn’t really seem to add anything to the storyline. Ricardo seemed to feel he was in exile, and he felt the alien was as well? I didn’t get it.

Title comes from: The alien was an ostrocon and it was on Europa

FR-Timestreams-ebook-cover-e1375815894720Title: The Totem of Curtained Minds

Published: August 2013 in Fiction River: Time Streams

Genre: time travel

Length: 15 pages

Setting: a state penitentiary, present day

Interest: It was included in the 2014 Campbellian Anthology

Summary: Gareth is in jail for life plus 20 years for killing a man during a robbery. He’s pretty much resigned to his fate in jail, when he realizes Old Man Soderstrom is raising giant Cecopria silk moths in a nearby cell. When Soderstrom is shanked for his cigarettes, Gareth takes on his project of raising moths. He uses the silk from pupa that don’t pupate to weave a cloth that concentrates light that allows someone inside the light to step outside of time. Gareth steps into the future several times.

Final thoughts: Again, I was disappointed with the ending. It’s an interesting thought that light is outside of time, so if you can step into the light, you can step outside of time. However, I wasn’t sold about the setting (in jail for life) or the reasons he kept stepping forward in time. Sure, the first time to get out of jail made sense, but why step forward again when he found someone to be with? And what was the deal with bringing the moths with him in time? Was it so he could always step forward in time if he wanted to?

Title comes from: Gareth felt like a curtain was lifted from his mind when he learned how to time travel and the silk moths were his totem.

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The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

Published: 1983

Genre: fantasy

Length: 183 pages

Setting: various locations within Discworld, starting at Ankh-Morpork

Interest: Terry Pratchett died recently and I realized I’ve never read any of his Discworld books, which are classics in the field. Several of the books (including this one) are part of the BBC’s The Big Read. Continue reading

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The Garden of the Stone by Victoria Strauss

Published: 1998

Genre: fantasy

Length: 525 pages

Setting: a parallel Earth, present day

Interest: It was a random book picked off my Kindle Continue reading

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Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Published: 2015

Genre: YA fiction graphic novel

Length: 240 pages

Setting: I think near Seattle, Washington, present day or recent past (since cell phones aren’t ubiquitous)

Interest: I saw it reviewed on a blog post (I think it was GeekDad, maybe this post?) and thought it would be a good book to check out.

Summary: Astrid and Nicole have been best friends since first grade. However, in the summer of their fifth grade, their relationship changes. Astrid is fascinated by roller derby after her mother takes her and Nicole to a roller derby match. Astrid wants to do a roller derby summer camp with Nicole, but Nicole wants to do a dance camp with annoying Rachel. They have a falling out, but Astrid still goes to roller derby camp. She’s intimidated at the camp because she can’t really skate and everyone else seems older and more experienced. She sticks with it, and learns the skills, really applying herself when there’s the promise of a mini-bout at the Rose City Rollers bout. She also makes friends with Zoey at roller derby camp, gets in trouble for lying to her mother, and eventually makes up with Nicole.

Final thoughts: This is such a good book on so many levels. There’s the story of roller derby and training for a new skill that Astrid undertakes. She’s not very good at the beginning, but she perseveres and improves dramatically during the course of the summer camp.

There’s the drama of moving from elementary school to middle school. Nicole is starting to be interested in boys, but Astrid isn’t, so Nicole starts hanging out with Rachel because she’s a little more mature than Astrid. Astrid is hurt, but doesn’t realize that in many ways she’s being selfish because she only wants her and Nicole to do with she likes. There’s some tension of not fitting in, but Astrid finds a new sense of identity in with the roller derby girls, which perhaps isn’t what her mother hoped she would be.

Finally, there’s quite a bit on how to be a good person in a relationship, whether that relationship is mother to daughter or friend to friend. As a bonus, my kids loved it. They both read the book multiple times. Mr. Curiosity said he liked the growth Astrid showed in roller derby and how she stuck with it, even though she didn’t start out very good at it.

The art adds to the story as well. It’s realistic art, with many different body types and skin colors being shown. There’s also occasional drawings done by Astrid.

Title comes from: The topic.

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Short Stories by Kate Heartfield

archives-issue3Title: Word for Word

Published: May 2013 in Waylines Magazine, Issue 3

Genre: Fantasy-ish

Length: 5 pages

Setting: a random city, present day

Interest: It was included in the 2014 Campbellian Anthology

Summary: Have you every wished you could talk back something you said? Sam has a Box that let’s him do just that. If he types up the words exactly on the typewriter that came with the Box, the words are erased from everyone’s memories, including his own. Turns out, without those memories, you can’t grow as a person and Sam’s pretty much a dick. He finally realizes that, and takes all his memories out of the Box.

Final thoughts: Interesting enough, especially the idea that without those painful memories you can’t actually grow and improve as a person.

Title comes from: Sam had to write down his conversation word for word for the Box to make everyone forget the words.

2013-08

Art by Melissa Mead

Title: For Sale by Owner

Published: August 2013 in Daily Science Fiction

Genre: Fantasy-ish

Length: 11 pages

Setting: a house on the Ridge, present day

Interest: It was included in the 2014 Campbellian Anthology

Summary: Ron has lived in his house on the Ridge for years and years. The Ridge is the favorite location for suicide attempts, and Ron has taken it upon himself to try to persuade anyone attempting suicide to reconsider. He’s not always successful, but that’s OK. However, he’s ready to be done with his job and he thinks he’s found his successor in Ajay.

Final thoughts: An interesting story, with the only fantastic element the fact that Ron has lived over 150 years.  Ajay is one of the suicide attempts, but Ron gives him purpose and a reason to keep on living in taking his place in the house on the Ridge.

Title comes from: The house on the Ridge had a sign out front, “For Sale by Owner” as Ron looked for someone to take his place.

Title: A Pair of Ragged Claws

Published: April 2013 in Black Treacle

Genre: fantastical horror

Length: 10 pages

Setting: a dance club, present day

Interest: It was included in the 2014 Campbellian Anthology

Summary: Giant, sentient Scorpions have appeared on Earth and they’ve started to participate in human society, including making music. Rona is at a dance club where a Scorpion band is playing and she wants more than anything to be part of that band. She has that wish when the singer for the band takes her backstage and Rona learns how humans “develop” the ability to talk to Scorpions.

Final thoughts: This was definitely the creepiest of the stories. It seems the Scorpions get bored easily with their human translators, and once you’re linked to the Scorpions, only death will sever those ties. Rona gets what she wants, the chance to tour with a Scorpion band, but it certainly isn’t a long-term job.

Title comes from: When the Scorpion grabbed Rona with its claws, it marked up her arms with its ragged claws.

 

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